By John Clark
An inspiration, role model, a father figure, a great person, a blessing, a coach and an educator – those were some of the words used by former players and fellow coaches to describe Coach Harold Ford who passed away Monday. He was 90.
Ford led Clarkton to 5 state championship games in basketball and finally won his state championship in 1985, but his former players and friends spent most of their time talking about Coach Ford – the person.
Glenn McKoy, a current member of the Bladen County Board of Education, talked about coming to Booker T. Washington School in Clarkton after his Portersville School closed in 1965. “Coach Ford was instrumental in my early life,” shared McKoy. “He said he recognized a tenacity – a will to win – in me that few people had and he supported me in every way that he could.”
Ford’s high school education was at Laurinburg Institute, and he then went to Fayetteville State University where he was a defensive lineman on the football team. However Ford was drafted into the U. S. Army and wound up in Korea as an infantryman in a couple of major battles including ‘Bloody Ridge’.
After leaving the army, Coach Ford returned to Fayetteville State where he obtained his teaching degree and also played 3 more years on the football team. He played well enough to be inducted into the Fayetteville State Athletic Hall of Fame.
Coach Ford began his teaching career at Booker T. Washington and then came over to Clarkton High School during integration. At Clarkton he served as an assistant principal, basketball coach and assistant football coach. His late wife, Lendora, was also a teacher.
McKoy played basketball and 1-year of football under Coach Ford. “I was working at Jones Lake after graduation and Coach Ford called me up,” said McKoy. “He had made some contacts and paved the way for me to go to Fayetteville State to play football. Once I started playing up there he never missed a home game. After the games he would slip $20 spending money into my hand.”
Coach Ford was also instrumental in building support later on for McKoy’s induction into the Fayetteville State Athletic Hall of Fame. “He guided me as a mentor,” stated McKoy. “I wanted to model Coach Ford in my life. He always talked about the ‘Man in the Mirror’ and said to always check out the ‘Man in the Mirror’ before you leave the house in the morning.”
McKoy went on to Coach Whiteville High School to 4 state championship game appearances and his Wolfpack won 2 state championships. Coach Ford was the keynote speaker at Coach McKoy’s basketball camps for 40 years. “There will never be another Coach Harold Ford,” added McKoy.
Pete Jones who played football and baseball at Clarkton in the mid-1980s talked about the father figure that Coach Ford was in the community. ““A lot of the kids didn’t have a father at home, and Coach Ford and Mr. W. D. Neill became the ‘Father Figures’ for all of us, and we were so appreciative of that,” said Jones.
After taking very strong teams to the state championship game in 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1979, Coach Ford won his state championship 57-47 over Edneyville in 1985.
“Israel Cromartie was the only senior on the team and Coach Ford said he finally won it with a bunch of kids,” said Jones.
The stars on the 1985 state champs were Cromartie, Raymond McKoy and Alfred Baldwin. Other members included Coach Ford’s son Sherman, Mr. Neill’s sons, Jerrod and Craig, Kevin Jones, Montrell Baldwin Rodney McKoy and Melvin Bardwell.
Clarkton football Coach Raymond Marlowe called Coach Ford, “A great person, a pillar of the community, someone who was always looking to do something for someone else. He was a joy to be around.”
Worley Edwards who is now a member of the Columbus County Board of Education said, “Coach Ford was one of those people put into my life to be an inspiration. I first met him at a Saturday basketball program just before integration, and he took a look at me and even though I was small he said I am going to be your basketball coach some day.”
“He made the biggest impression on me,” continued Edwards. “I wanted to be a coach, a daddy, a man just like him. He always knew the right things to say. When I started coaching at Williams Township, he beat me the first 14 times I played him, then I won the next 8 in a row. One time he told me you can shoot 30% if you get 50 more shots in the game, I said, ‘Coach at Williams I am not going to get 50 more shots.”
Kenzil McCall who coached basketball at East Bladen and Whiteville and served as an assistant coach in baseball and football said, “It is a tremendous loss to the Clarkton community. Coach Ford was a great influence in my life. I wanted to get into the school system so I went to him first and he got me in the door.”
“I could talk about him all day, and the words of encouragement and guidance that he shared,” continued McCall. “Whenever I would visit him he would still share the same stories and sayings that would stick with you.”
Pete Jones talked about the quotes and poems that Coach Ford shared with his students everyday, and McCall relayed a couple of them. “If it is to be, it’s up to me, and luck is where preparation meets opportunity.”
“I am thankful for the relationship that I had with him for the last 35 years,” added McCall. “Coach Ford always had that big smile. He was always the same. There is no telling how many young men and women that he touched. He was just a tremendous blessing to my life.”
Coach Ford’s daughter, Sheila Ford Duncan, was recently inducted into the UNC-Asheville Hall of Fame. She led UNC-Asheville to the NAIA national championship and was the 1984 Most Valuable Player. She was the first player in women’s basketball history to collect more than 2,000 points and 2,000 rebounds in her career.